Obama, security team meet on alleged Syria chemical attack

WASHINGTON (AFP) - United States President Barack Obama met his top national security advisors early on Saturday to discuss the response to Syria's alleged use of chemical weapons, a White House official said.

“The President has directed the intelligence community to gather facts and evidence so that we can determine what occurred in Syria. Once we ascertain the facts, the president will make an informed decision about how to respond,” the official said.

"We have a range of options available, and we are going to act very deliberately so that we're making decisions consistent with our national interest as well as our assessment of what can advance our objectives in Syria," the official added.

Mr Obama is under mounting pressure to act following reports of a massive chemical attack near Damascus that opposition groups say killed as many as 1,300 people.

The Syrian government has denied using chemical weapons.

On Friday, Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel suggested that the United States was moving forces into place ahead of possible military action against Syria.

However, Mr Obama has also voiced caution about the kind of intervention that could draw the United States into another prolonged conflict in the Middle East.

US commanders have nevertheless prepared a range of options for Mr Obama if he chooses to proceed with military strikes against Damascus, Mr Hagel told reporters during a visit to South-east Asia.

“The Defence Department has a responsibility to provide the President with options for all contingencies,” Mr Hagel said.

“And that requires positioning our forces, positioning our assets to be able to carry out different options – whatever the President might choose.”